Lean manufacturing is a concept that’s been around for generations. Some say it began with Eli Whitney’s concept of interchangeable parts; however, many consider Henry Ford the first practitioner of lean manufacturing, followed by Chevrolet’s Alfred Sloan.
After World War II, factory owners in Japan started adopting many of the production and quality techniques found in the United States. For example, Henry Ford’s manufacturing processes and Edwards Deming’s Quality Control ideas would become the foundation for the Toyota Production System. Often referred to as Just-in-time (JIT) production, it did differ from the American automotive industry in one principle: Toyota encouraged its employees to become part of the manufacturing process.
The inclusion of the employees in the process led to the introduction of the Quality Circle movement, where members informed management about the quality of production. That led to smaller batches of manufacturing, which meant that reduced times were needed for setups and changeovers. Eventually, manufacturing companies in North America began to adopt many of these lean manufacturing techniques, and the benefits of these concepts have led to many other industries – especially mining – implementing the core principles.
Why and How the Mining Industry Is Looking to Adopt Lean Techniques and Philosophies
One of the reasons for implementing lean in the mining industry is to eliminate activities that do not directly add value, allowing for faster extraction of ore and reduced operational costs. Examples of these types of activities include:
- Rework or repair
- Taking inventory
Lean techniques also empower employees even at the lowest level to solve problems and make operational decisions. This makes sense because those employees are in the best place to make suggestions about waste elimination, productivity improvement and other needed problem solving, in addition to being the ones who actually carry out techniques that make work more efficient. Managers in a lean mining operation should be fulfilling roles as mentors who provide the resources and tools necessary for continuous improvement.
Tool Tracking Can Help Lean Mining Companies Achieve Their Goals
An incredibly powerful technique that can eliminate operational waste in mining involves tool tracking. Consider the following ways tool tracking systems can help with this core lean principle:
- Tool tracking allows for tracking an unlimited number of tools across multiple job sites. Employees can eliminate time wasted time by using tool tracking software to ensure equipment and tools are in the right place at the right time. This helps improve productivity as well.
- Tool tracking software can often eliminate the need for a dedicated tool crib attendant. With barcodes and/or RFID, it is easy to track who has checked out tools or received consumables using an automated kiosk. Tools are less frequently lost, stolen or hoarded, as a tool tracking system can help identify which employee last had the tool, increasing accountability and saving time.
Successful Lean Mining Operations
If lean mining is going to be successful, companies will need to thoroughly scrutinize their operations. Lean principles can be successfully applied, but there are specific challenges that must be overcome. It’s important that companies think about the process changes that are needed, but a change in company culture may also be required. It is not something that will happen overnight, and it does require total devotion from every employee.
However, when applied correctly, lean principles can have positive impacts. With the aid of tools such as equipment tracking software, mining operations can strive to run as efficiently as possible and stay afloat despite economic challenges.